Former President of the Republic of Malawi
Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
Today nearly 90 percent of nations still have laws on the books that block women’s work, including discriminatory laws and customs surrounding family life that perpetuate unequal access to assets and opportunities. In some countries, women need the permission of their husbands or fathers to work, sons and daughters lack equal inheritance rights to property, while married women can’t apply for a national ID card in the same way as men. Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda discusses strategies to overcome these barriers and encourage opportunities for women to participate in the economy.
This meeting is part of a high-level series in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to explore the economic effects of inequality under the law.
BIGIO: Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon. Thank you so much for joining us today at the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Jamille Bigio. I’m a senior fellow here at the Council’s Women and Foreign Policy Program. Our program has worked with leading scholars for more than 15 years to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy objectives, including prosperity and stability.
I want to take a moment before we begin to thank our advisory council members who are here with us today, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its generous support for today’s discussion. I also want to remind everyone that the presentation, discussion, and question and answer period will be on the record.
We are lucky to be joined today by Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, who served as the president of the Republic of Malawi from 2012 to 2014. She was Malawi’s first female president and the continent’s second. Since leaving government, she has continued her leadership with the Joyce Banda Foundation International and has served as a distinguished fellow at the Wilson Center and the Center for Global Development, where her research has focused on promoting women’s leadership. As she has pointed out, to improve governance and promote economic growth, one must address the barriers that prevent women from participating in public and economic life.
Saudi Arabia caught the world’s attention with its historic move, permitting women to drive for the first time. But it’s important to note that there are legal barriers to women’s economic participation in nearly 90 percent of countries. These include discriminatory laws and customs surrounding family life that perpetuate unequal access to assets and opportunities that prevent girls from finding opportunities to learn and to grow and to become the leaders of the future in their governments and in their economies. Research has, in fact, documented that legal reforms can directly lead to economic and social gains. They saw this in Ethiopia, for example, where removing the stipulation that husbands could stop their wives from working, in fact, led to an increase in women’s labor force participation, with more women working in higher-skilled jobs.
Recognizing how critical these barriers are, I’d like to first to take a step back, Dr. Banda, to look at how critical women’s participation and leadership is in the first place. It was under your leadership that you instituted reforms while president that led to a significant economic expansion. Malawi’s rate of economic growth in fact rose from 1.8 percent in 2012 at the start of your presidency, to over 6.2 percent in 2014—at the end of your term. How do you see women’s economic participation as contributing to the growth that you saw under your leadership?
BANDA: Yeah, thank you very much. I’m truly grateful and honored to be here to discuss issues around women’s participation in leadership and in the economy. And I also see so many friends around the table, particularly those who have lived in Malawi. I see Dr. Natalie Hahn, who was our UNICEF country director.
There are several issues that I must mention. I think, first and foremost, is to mention that there’s a stubborn link between participation in the economy—economic empowerment of women, and leadership. And I say this because the organization that I started in 1989 to assist women gaining economic empowerment, four of them ended up moving on to become ministers of—members of parliament and ministers of women and children. And in my particular case, all the way to statehouse. In countries where there’s no affirmative action, women must be economically empowered in order to be able to have the resources to compete on equal ground with men into elected office.
Number two, during the time that I was head of state, maybe I should talk about what brought about the achievements that you referred to. Number one, was the uniqueness of female leadership. When I got into office, 2 million people had no food. There was no fuel for a day. The economy had grown by 1.8 percent. Companies were operating at 35 percent because there was no money for import (cover ?) or raw materials. The relationship between us and our neighbors was bad. And our relationship with our main donor, the U.K., had broken up and the ambassadors had called back.
We were off track with the IMF. And I’m told that my predecessors had refused to even devalue the currency to be realistic because they didn’t want to lose the votes that come with that—with that fake situation. They needed—you needed to—in order to devalue, it’s obvious many people will go through a difficult time. And it is that pressure that my predecessors didn’t want. Female leaders tried to do their level best to do things right. It was—what I have studied, looking at Ellen Sirleaf, looking at myself, looking at all other female leaders, is that most of them come into leadership to serve. They don’t come into leadership looking for the power. So they’ll take risks.
So in my particular case, the very same week I traveled to the IMF and met Christine Lagarde, and asked what did I need to do in order for us to get back right on track. And she told me, I needed to devalue the currency by 49 percent. And for that to happen—if that happened, then people were going to suffer. But for me, it was a necessary step to take in order to get to a better place. So taking risks is one of the steps that I had to take. And I know that it’s not only me, that female leaders would do the same. Number two is to make even unpopular decisions, if you are convinced they are in the best interest of the people you serve.
Number three is the style of leadership, the inclusivity. The fact that if you know that you need to take such steps that are not going to be popular, then engage the people and let them know, because when you do engage them they will stand by you. Again, another important step that I had to take was to appoint fellow women. I found that when women participate in leadership—you are president—in my case, the chief justice was a woman—that I appointed was a woman. The head of civil service was a woman. The two deputy governors of the reserve bank were women. The inspector of general police was a woman. The solicitor general was a woman. There are times when the head of civil service, the chief justice, and myself—we had the three of us having a cup of tea, running matters of state. So we can do it.
But I found that because they had not been given—I made 100 appointments. Not window dressing, on merit. The women are qualified and they’re out there. They just need to be given the opportunity to participate. And I have found that making better choices of both men and women to serve as leaders, principal secretaries and the technical staff, working together as a team yielded more for us than if when you try to leave a whole half of your human resource out.
The next that I have found, the step that I took that I think contributed more, was that in an atmosphere that is tight, women don’t participate freely, even in business. Particularly in countries where most women are not educated. And they’re not allowed to speak freely. They’re not allowed to associate freely. Journalists are not allowed to write freely. Women are not allowed to be heard on the radio, and so on. That has an effect on how they will progress in participating in the economy. Dr. Natalie Hahn knows that when I started in Malawi mobilizing fellow women, it was a tough time but women running business was looked down upon. If you are in business, that means you are loose. You—we had to work on changing that mindset.
And in 1997, when I received the African Prize for the work I had done in mobilizing 50,000 women and providing microfinance to them, and thank you to USAID that made that possible, Dr. Natalie Hahn was our guest of honor when we celebrated the African Price that I received for that work. So there is that to consider, that there’s the law and there’s tradition. So in a country like mine, where 80 percent of the people are rural based, if you are going to change—to pass even laws, then you must realize that you have also to take into consideration what the traditions is, because you can pass a law that it would not be followed. I just wanted to say that it is a lot of other underlying issues that will create an environment for women to thrive in business.
BIGIO: Your research now has been focused on how governments and communities can—from day one of a girl’s life—promote women’s leadership. There are laws and customs around family life that prevent opportunities for girls and for women later, even, to engage and to participate in their economies, in public life. Can you speak about what some of those laws and customs are, and what are the challenges in seeing reforms, in seeing actual changes in practice and in behavior?
BANDA: I will just cite a few that I have been involved in. One of them is domestic violence. I believe that as long as women are abused, they cannot prosper, and they cannot run business. But allow me to give examples. In 2004, when I was appointed minister of women and children, I decided that because I had come from an abused marriage myself, I was going to champion the passing of the domestic violence bill in parliament. And in order for that bill to pass, I needed to expose—because I was feeling the resistance on the part of men, because they didn’t think it was abuse, what I talked about. In fact, sometimes even women when I’d go to rural areas, and I told them: You know, you can change this situation. They would say, what’s wrong with this?
So in order for me to get the support of the majority of the nation, I needed to expose some of the instances—horrific instances of domestic violence that would convince both men and women a time would come to pass a law that would protect the women. One of them was a woman who refused to go back to her marriage. She had left. Her husband followed her to her village. The woman said, no, enough. It’s enough. The man, who would stand in shame back home, went and hid by the river and waited for her when she went to draw water and chopped off both her arms.
When I went to see her in hospital, that’s when she told me that she was one-month pregnant. But she had no arms. So she tells me, ma’am—told me, how am I ever going to hold this baby? And I made sure that the whole nation knows because even I, up until that time, who had been in an abused marriage myself, made me feel very small, because what it was witnessing now was really real abuse. A woman whose husband had told her: You must cook beans. When I come back, I want beans. He comes homes, there’s no beans, he scooped out her eye.
So, fast forward. I established what I called the one-stop destination for abused women. So the day I went there to open either place I found a man and a woman with a baby, and I thought it was husband and wife and they’d been fighting. And when I asked the man said, no, I’m not her husband. I’m her neighbor. I’ve been hearing this baby cry for the past 12 months. So the baby was 18 months. So that means the baby was eight months when this neighbor started hearing the baby scream every day. So I broke into the house and found her husband sleeping—defiling the baby—sleeping with the baby, the 18-month-old child.
So when he must have started, this child was eight months. And when I asked his woman: How could you have just stood by and watched your child be abused that way? She herself was 15. She said, look at me. I have nowhere to go. I have no parents. I have no means. I have no business. So straightaway I told her: Go pack your bags. I’ll give you capital to start business. Found her a home. Unfortunately, a few months later there was a woman crying at the gate, she had lost the baby. So obviously the child had been infected with AIDS.
So economic empowerment and gender-based violence are related, because when a woman finds herself in a situation where she had no choice but to stick around in this abusive home, she goes through that so much that at the end of the day she can lose the child, she can lose arms, she can lose an eye due to gender-based violence. So we passed the domestic violence bill on the 19th of June 2006.
The challenge is—let me jump to your next question—the challenge is, yes, you can pass laws, but the problem is how to domesticate them and to implement them. It’s the willingness on the part of the people that are being abused to take advantage of the laws that are passed. Most of the time it is the women themselves that will hide and not want it known that they’re being abused. Number two, it is the capacity or maybe political will on the part of governments who pass—to make sure that the laws that are passed are implemented and respected. In Malawi, we passed a law, the marriage act, the minimum age. Nobody gets married before age 18. And I was one of those that started the fight and the drafting of that bill. By the time it went to parliament I had left office, but it was passed.
But now, it’s not being implemented. Even the domestic violence. Why? Because here is a family with a child that is 11, ready to go to high school. But they don’t have the $50 paid term to go to school. So the child sits in the village from age 11 to 18, because that’s what the law says. No possible. And it’s not happening. There’s one chief in Malawi who tried—wanted to pull out 1,000 girls from child marriages. Most of them run back. And she herself was despised all over the place because the families are saying: Why are you pulling our children out of marriages? What do you want them to do? So when you tell a girl child not to get married at age 11, then ensure that there’s an alternative. There’s fees—there’s school fees for her to go to school, or there’s an alternative for income. And most of the girls that are dying giving birth, women, they are between 15 and 19. So that’s the—going to school for four more years is not only about her future, it’s about her health, life as well.
BIGIO: You highlighted the example in Malawi of the critical new law on raising the marriage age. And Malawi’s a country that has one of the highest rates of child marriage. Nearly half of girls are married before they’re 18. So this is a critical reform. What progress do you see in other countries, in Africa or elsewhere, to reform discriminatory laws around family life, whether it’s inheritance, land rights, or otherwise?
BANDA: An example is the trokosi. The trokosi is a tradition in Ghana where girls are offered to the high priest, because the family has done something wrong. So they will charged, give a girl child. And the girl child is offered to the high priest at six years old. And when she goes, she goes for good. By 17 she had children from this old man. The Ghanaian government decided in 1998 to pass a law against taking these girls into captivity, because when they go they don’t return. Their life is doomed. There is no more opportunity for education, or business, or anything. They go there, and they just—all they do is produce babies from this old, old, old man.
So the government of Ghana passed a law in 1998, I think. And but for many years, nobody cared because it is a tradition. And the government has passed a law, but there was no policing, there was no ensuring that the law is being respected. It took NGOs many years later to go to government, to push government. So the partnership between civil society and the government is what made it work. In fact, to an extent, that they had to raise money from donors and go and buy out the girls—pay the priest—the high priest, or whatever he’s called, to release the girl child. Now, as we speak, there are about 1,200 still in captivity. So that’s how long it takes.
In the case of Malawi, the law is there against early marriage, against marriage before 18, against domestic violence. But the problem—the biggest problem is now when you go into Malawi—I don’t know if you’ve seen courts anywhere—the infrastructure, it is not there. The support system is not there. I don’t remember seeing a court in—Blantyre. I saw, when this woman has been abused and wants to go to court and can’t see a court, there’s no need. There’s no need. So ensuring that as we fight gender-based violence there’s also political will to ensure that the infrastructure, support systems, are also in place.
BIGIO: You have focused in our conversation today on some of the barriers and abuse that girls are facing. And I know in your research you’re also highlighting where we can invest more in girls’ leadership. What priorities do you see in terms of ensuring that women and girls have opportunities for leadership in public and economic life?
BANDA: I believe that most of the challenges women face, or families face, is because we don’t have enough women leaders. And I say this with all due respect, because I know that when women get into leadership they focus more on issues that affect women and children—social issues, health, education. And the—and I know that it is important that women should participate in leadership. But for that to happen, we need to focus on the girl child. My research has shown that girls and boys are born with 30 percent leadership traits. In the past, I used to insist that leaders are born. But now they are telling us, no, they’re only born with 30 percent leadership traits. Seventy percent has to be developed.
Now, my concern—the case I’ve been making in all my research is that—that in a house—in a typical household, 80 percent of those that live in Africa and the third-world—80 percent are rural-based. Now, that’s where tradition and culture and traditional leaders, that’s where they thrive. That’s where they are. And so the girl child is born in this household. And without intending to do the child any harm, the girl child will eat with mother, the boy child will eat with father, because that’s tradition. But me, as a typical African woman, I will give the best to my husband. I want to impress him. So he’s having a better meal. So without discriminating clearly, I am feeding my son, who is eating with father, better quality food than my girl child.
And then my girl child at five years old—I am a victim myself—I started carrying heavy stuff when I was five years old. And I remember at that time, they used to say: She’s a very good child, very hardworking. But now I have a bent spine. And I’ve been going to doctors. And each doctor, without fail, tells me: You started carrying heavy stuff when you were young. If you just close your eyes and look at Accra, Blantyre, Lilongwe, Johannesburg, you see little girls at five, six, carrying stuff, selling in the markets and everywhere. And the boy child is at school. So for me, child labor—and before it nutrition, at a very critical time when the brain is being developed and then—(inaudible)—and child labor.
And then defilement. Whoever had told these wicked men that they can cleanse themselves of the HIV/AIDS if they defile a five-year or six-year-old, are targeting these girls to cleanse themselves. So they defile a five-year-old. The next is education. When resources are low, the boy goes, the girl child doesn’t go. But the most critical for me is harmful traditions. I have good pictures of my phone of an eight-year-old bride, nine years old. So when we—when governments, our partners in Africa and the third world earmark resources for support for the adolescent girl child—which is now in the past week, including in the Obama administration there were resources for education, health, income generation, and the harmful traditions from age 11 to 14.
In my opinion, having told you what I’ve told you, it’s too late. By the time you start focusing on this girl child—UNICEF will agree with me—it is zero to 10. So, for me, my work now is zero to 10, because if, indeed, a girl child or a boy child is born with these 30 percent leadership traits, then we will lose—we lose them at that period. And then if she doesn’t come out—because, for me, how do we support this girl child with leadership? And how do we mentor her? How do we educate her? How do we support her to become the leader she was meant to be? If we lose her, then that 30 percent has gone to waste, because the 70 percent shall not be—she’ll not benefit from it.
So for me, that’s what I’ve been waiting on. In order for me to aim at women leaders, we need to start looking at zero to 10 in order to fish them out, in order to support them, mentor them, educate them to become leaders. Why must women become leaders? Well, I will resist that women are better leaders, whether anybody likes it or not. It is just—it just saddens me that I am living in America for a year and a half, and I have been surprised—that is the best word I can use—to see that women are not getting equal pay and women are not getting maternity leave. And 201 years, there has been a female president—201. I mean, I’ve been talking to me favorite presidents here. I was talking to my President George W. Bush, that’s my favorite president—(laughter)—I think because of PEPFAR. I think he did a lot for Africa and he visited Africa 10 times. And so for me, he’s my favorite. I’ve been telling all of them the same. Really, there are no—not one woman in America who would have become president all these years? (Laughs.)
But anyway, just come back to what I was saying is that there’s so much that needs to be done, whether we are in America or in Africa, to empower women to be on equal footing, because the last time I checked we are more than men. And the last time I checked, we brought the other half into this world.
BIGIO: Well, Dr. Banda, with that I am sure we have a lot of great questions from the audience. We’d like now to open the floor. Please, if you could raise your placard. When I call on you, please introduce yourself with your name and organization.
Q: Hi. Good morning. Thank you very much for coming to speak with us. It’s an honor to meet you.
I have a question about the area of intimate partner violence that you were speaking about, the domestic violence legislation that was passed in 2006. And I’m wondering what local or large-scale interventions that you saw or see that are being implemented now, either with girls or women in Malawi do you think are the most effective at either reducing violence or allowing women to understand that they’re in violent situations, or leave violent situations?
BANDA: I think in the case of Malawi what 2006 did was for the first—because we had marches as well. We marched all over the place. And I had a very progressive president. So I remember—I told him. I said, you know, you look very good if you allow your male ministers to go and march with me on the street against domestic violence. And for the first time, people saw me side-by-side with my colleagues marching on the street against gender-based violence. But the time we went to parliament, we struggled, yes. They called me all kinds of names, yes—the men in parliament, now my colleagues in parliament. Because it’s a parliament of 193, and we were only 27 women. So it was hard for us to pass that bill.
But at the end of the day, with the support of Oxfam and UNFPA—because every Thursday they give me resources to invite all of them to a dinner and one-on-one. Why must I not beat my wife? No, I mean, you look better if you don’t beat her up. That—I mean—(laughter)—yeah. And the reason why I called it domestic violence because I was hoping that’s the only way I can get it to pass, because I kept saying throughout the campaign: No, I’m talking about you men as well, because I know that some of you are being abused. So this is about family. Domestic violence means even the child in your household, the worker in your household, yourself, and your wife.
They were not very convinced. But at the end of the day, what worked best was the exposing of instances, because now even the musicians started to be composing songs: Don’t beat up your wife, Joyce Banda is coming. (Laughter.) So every day I was just like a madwoman on the radio. Whatever I discover, I would then put it on—I would then put it on TV. For example, there was this woman who went home, her child was epileptic. She went to the village to look for medicine—African medicine. And I’m told they agreed with her husband, she would be gone for a year. Left her eight-year-old in the house. And this—one day this man, father, goes into the bedroom of the girl and says: I’m looking for money. So the girl says then she woke up, put on her piece of cloth to help him look for the money. He said, you don’t understand, the money is you.
My witchdoctor has told me if I sleep with you then my barber shop will make a lot of money. So he started defiling this child all the time the mother was away. Tried to tell a neighbor, who didn’t pay attention. And then the father had told her that it is your mother and I who agreed that we should do this. So when the mother came back, and he told—and this child told the mother, the mother went to church to tell the priest—we are very spiritual in Malawi—went to church to tell the pastor: This is what my husband has been doing to our daughter. The pastor says: That stuff is everywhere. Don’t even expose your husband. So now this child, her father got even more angry that she had even tried to report on him at church, where he was the senior in the church. So he said: To punish you, I’m not paying your school fees anymore.
So this eight-year-old now comes to my office to say: I’m looking for Joyce Banda to pay my school fees. Why? Then she explained this. And I related this story to him. And I invited TV station reporters to my—and cameras to my office. And I asked—because you can’t interview an eight-year-old on TV—go and get your mother here. I asked the mother if she was prepared to speak on TV. And so every single day people watched a clip like that. So that by the time we went to parliament, everybody was fed up.
But then, post passing the bill, yes, the woman knows now that she had this tool. She can even, under that law, evict her abusive husband. But you find that it is the women themselves that don’t want to take advantage of that, because then the community will laugh at her to say: You went to report your husband and he’s arrested? You evicted your husband? So it is—it has to be combined with change of mindset. Encourage the women to say it’s in their best interest to make sure that their children—I mean, this child of mine grew up—I had to leave my husband to protect my child. Here she is. So you have—sometimes you have to leave an abusive situation for the sake of your children. And you have to convince the women to say that is what the result is going to be. It’s going to work better for her and her children. Sometimes they don’t see it.
Number two is what I said earlier, to make sure that we—I don’t know who supported us, but the UNICEF, when I was minister of women and children, bought us bicycles and supported us to recruit child protection officers. In every constituency, there were two under my ministry. And they bought us bicycles to make sure that there’s a child protection officer who can go around and also hear whether there’s abuse of women and children and report it. A few things happened. If you ask me, am I satisfied? I’m not. I’m not satisfied because even as I speak to you now it has not been—the law has not been translated, because the women have been told, maybe on the radio and so on, about what they have at their disposal.
But they need to have it translated in the local language so that they can see what they have, that they are powerful enough to do one, two, three. Or to be told—a radio program that runs every day to tell them: If this happens to you, you can go here. That’s what is lacking. But I’m not in government anymore. But the good news is that the laws are in place. So it all depends on which leader comes into office. The tragedy is that when one leader comes, they change whatever you did as a leader. (Laughter.) And my priorities will not be high priorities here.
Q: President Banda, it’s wonderful having you with us. Thank you so much.
When I arrived in Malawi, and the country—40 percent of the kids were not in school. It’s the 13th poorest country in the world. And however, what your bio doesn’t tell us is what you were doing 20 years before you entered politics. Joyce Banda was out in the villages. She traveled throughout the country meeting with women. There was a new democratic government after 36 years of a dictatorship. And the women would say: We want to start a business. We want our kids in school. And you gave them hope. You showed them how to get a loan, how to prevent debt, how to get savings opportunities. You transformed the government. And when women knew they had a women president, let me tell you, Malawi was a proud, proud state.
My question deals with the fact that we’re surrounded here today by many international women that have done a lot for Africa. Dr. Peg Snyder, who’s a founder of UNIFEM, United Nations Women’s Voluntary Fund, in the 1970s. Melissa Kushner has benefitted 900,000 children in Malawi with Yamba Malawi.
BANDA: True. I’m a witness to that. (Laughs.)
Q: We’re so happy to have your daughter with us today. And we know many, many partnerships that exist between American and African women. My question is, what else can we do for Africa? Because it’s not that we benefit alone. We learn so much also from our African sisters?
BANDA: I just spoke at Kansas State University. And I talked about what happens when the American government decides to invest in one African woman. That’s what they did with me. I just walked into the USAID director. As Dr. Natalie Hahn says, that country was under dictatorship. So we didn’t have the freedom to speak. So there was a meeting of the private sector. UNDP had organized that meeting to ask why was Malawi not taking advantage of the private sector as the engine for growth? It was just me and—(inaudible)—the two of us invited to that meeting. And I stood up and said: As long as women are sidelined, this country shall never develop. And as long as women are sidelined in business, there’s no engine for growth anywhere. Look at this room. We’re just two of us.
In that hall, in that meeting there was a gentleman called Don Henry who was leading a U.S. project called Rural Enterprise Development Project. So he called me during break and said: I’ve never heard an African woman—a Malawian woman talk like that. Are you not afraid of being arrested? I said, look, my husband has been arrested before. He has been under house arrest for five years. What else can they do? So he gave me a card and said: If you ever want me in the future, contact me. USAID sponsored me to come to the U.S. for a study too of the six-month exchange programs. I traveled from coast to coast.
By the time I finished, I was concerned, because having left an abusive marriage now I was happily married. My children had a happy home. My worry was, what can I do? What about those of my friends who are not brave enough to walk out of an abusive situation? Because there you would just say. There’s no way you can walk out. But I did. What about those? What can I do? By the time I left this country after six weeks, I was very clear in my mind that I needed to go back, mobilize 100 women, and fight for our rights in business as well.
When I got home I looked for that little card from Don Henry. I went and met Don. And Don said, go and meet my boss. And the boss was Carol Peasley. Carol Peasley was then leading USAID. Dr. Natalie Hahn was leading UNICEF. And what I have seen in Malawi is that even in those partner, international organization, when they are led by women, so much happens in in the country. Because then she sat down with me, and I realized that I was not making an impact, because she folded her pad and put it aside. And I wasn’t making sense. I was just full of fire. Malawian women need support. And I went back to Don and I said: Looks like I didn’t make any impact there. She said, what did you say? I told her. She said, no, we donors want statistics. We want you to tell us figures. Where is the problem? And I was so green, I didn’t know how to do that, in 1989.
So Carol—I went back to Carol, and now asked properly. Can you fund a needs assessment study to assist me to find out the actual situation of women in business in Malawi? And that’s when for the first time I got the shocking statistic that said even those that went into business, only 19 percent had gone beyond primary school. So we had to change the whole focus. It wasn’t now about the 100 women. It was about the rest of the women in Malawi. And that’s when I woke up. And from that day, after funding that—they funded the institutional development grant. They funded the program later on. USAID brought to Malawi what they called the shared project that helped strengthen civil society. In a period of two years, there were about 200 small organizations shooting up everywhere. The issues were there, but we didn’t know where to go with them. So everybody is forming an organization.
From that day they sent me to Bangladesh. I told them, I want to empower fellow women. They funded me to go to work with Muhammad Yunus. Came back and went to India to work with—(inaudible). Came back and designed our own program. By 1997, I had reached—the organization that I formed had reached 50,000 women. When I received an award because of that word, here in New York, I used my $50,000—it was a shared award with President Chissano of Mozambique. I told him, give me your 50,000 (dollars). (Laughter.) You don’t need it. You’re a whole president. He says, oh, no, no, no. (Laughter.) I took my 50,000 (dollars) went back home, started the Joyce Banda Foundation. Fast forward, the Joyce Banda Foundation now has reached 1.3 million Malawian.
When the U.S. government invests in one African women, 1.3 million Malawians will be affected. What about if there were 1,000 Joyce Bandas? So, for me, I know that U.S. is U.S. first. U.K. is U.K. first. And we must respect that, as Africans. And we, as Africans, must take that as an opportunity to clean up our mess and to prioritize and to put our priorities right, because we are not poor. There are so many resources out there. But in the meantime, I must—am truly, truly grateful to this country and to this government for all it has done. I can go president to president. From President George Bush, to Jimmy Carter, to everybody.
But I just want to respond now to Dr. Natalie, saying we need to continue to build women leaders. We’ve done well. The country with the highest number of women in parliament is on the continent of Africa. And Africa has had four presidents that are female. That’s why I’m asking, why haven’t we seen one here? Because it has been Liberia, Joyce Banda, Malawi, the Central African Republic, now Mauritius has a female president. But what I am looking at is the continuation of identifying those girls in that household, build them up, but not just give basic education but all the way to tertiary. To tertiary education because the only way we are going to be effective leaders is when we can challenge our male counterparts on saying, yeah, we are qualified. And you are not going to be qualified with just a basic education, when you can just read and write. You are going to be qualified to sit at that table.
All those women that I appointed were women who had been to university. So what I have done is that right now, out of those 1.3 million, is schools as well. I have built secondary schools. This is Joyce Banda now. That’s not the country. This is Joyce Banda Foundation. We have built schools. We have one school that is free, free, free, for both boys and girls, but ensuring that we are focusing more on the girl child—particularly those that are coming from child-headed households. So, for me, what you distinguished ladies and gentlemen can do is help us educate more girls because this early marriage is going to continue if girls are not going to secondary school. These early marriages, this abuse is going to continue if the woman is not educated enough in order to contribute economically to the household.
So that’s my opinion. How can we be assisted to send as many girls as possible to school? What women leaders in African are doing is that we are not just sitting back waiting for handouts. We know what we need to do to change our situation. In fact, we’ve just formed what we are calling the African Women Leaders Network last June under the U.N. Women. So there’s a whole database there. There’s a whole organization there. There’s a whole secretariat there where if there are interested parties in this room who will say: Our focus I girls’ education. They know that when they go there they will tell them: Joyce Banda is the one with education. But then in whatever other sector. We want to go into health sector? They have a database. And what women—who does what.
Secondly, I could—I believe, truly, that the way to go is for us to focus on developing young leaders. And I have been amazed at what young African girls are doing. There’s a 13-year-old and—again, thanks to America—she lives in South Carolina with her mother. She was taken to Africa at seven years old. She saw her fellow children of her age going to school with the books in plastic bags—sugar, empty bags. She asked her mother, why don’t have—what do you call—backpack? Why don’t they have backpack? She says, no, they don’t—they can’t afford. She came back, she told her teacher. Her teacher helped her raise 50 bags. As I’m speaking to you now, she has just distributed 10,000. She has received an award from the first lady of South Carolina. She was in an event with the first lady of Cape Verde. And I am her second guest—next guest at her fundraising event. In my speaking engagements at Woodrow Wilson I invited her. She’s 13 years old.
So we are seeing that—coming back to confirm what I said earlier, that they are born with 30 percent leadership. I knew at eight years old—somebody told my father: This child shall be a leader. A leader of what, I didn’t know. But I was listening. And my father laughed. What do you mean? She’s just a girl. And in my mind, he reminded me all the way as I was growing up, don’t forget what—remember my friend said you are destined to be a leader. So, me, is it in the church? Is it in, what, I didn’t know. But because I think of that seed, everywhere—even if somebody falls, I’m the one who jumps first. Because for me, I’m this type, to be a leader. So there’s all those children out there, young women leaders out there, even when we made the six—I think it was about 60 women who formed this network. They have one thing, if not 50 percent, were young women.
BIGIO: We have a question here. If you can turn it on.
Q: I wanted to ask you—I run a group called Donor Direct Action that tries to support advocacy groups around the world working for women’s rights. And you mentioned the important role in Ghana that the advocacy groups played with the trokosi practice. And I had worked with them many years ago. I’m wondering if you could say a little more about the advocacy movement for women in Malawi, and in particular NGOs that are leading that charge.
BANDA: I think it was in 1997, International Women’s Day. I think that Dr. Natalie Hahn was in Malawi. Yes, I remember, we were together. Yeah, in 1997 we launched what we called the gender policy. And we mobilized women on that day from the civil society. And we formed what we called the Gender Initiative Network. The idea was to continue advocating for women’s rights and women’s opportunities, gender-based violence, health, education, et cetera. But by the Monday, it backfired, three days later. In fact, when the president called me, my husband said: Well, you mobilized the 4,000 women. I’m sure the president is going to appoint you Cabinet minister. When I went there, I almost ended up in jail, because he was very angry indeed, because he had been convinced that Joyce Banda is building herself up to become president or something.
So the Gender Initiative Network was banned until the following year, when our leaders in the SADC region went to the SADC, and they started to discuss the 50 percent protocol for all positions in the SADC region. And they agreed that every country must have a gender network that will monitor and follow up and advocate for equal participation. When he came home, they told him, that’s what you banned. Because when they banned that, they also dismissed—fired all those women from government that assisted us, including Esnat Karyat (ph), who had assisted us to put together that event. So then he was told—the president was told that, no, that’s what you need. When he comes back, I was not completely sidelined because I had tried to mobilize women.
He is the one that called me to say come back. Can you reorganize that thing? So we have in Malawi what we call the gender initiative—the Gender Coordinating Network. During my time—because then when he called me back, I was the first chair of that network. It brought together 69 gender-related NGOs. I don’t know how large it is now, but I know that the lady who heads that now, who is my successor, Emma Kaliya, is also the head of FEMNET, which is an organization for the whole region.
So I would like to believe that they’ve done well. They’ve done well in the sense that through—because we in Africa, what we lack most is not training, per se, because training must be appropriate. I’m talking about training women seeking to stand for elected office must be appropriate for Africa, because when we get training from outside, then it’s opposite. If you tell me to be assertive, to look people in the face and to talk, then that’s the best way to lose an election. I must go to the chief and look down. And I have nothing to lose. Well, at the end of the day I’m going to be Cabinet minister or member of parliament. So it is to train trainers, that’s the support we seek.
And we have found that this Gender Coordinating Network has been fighting for financial capacity for women participants, because that’s what we lack. And I’m grateful to the Norwegian government, because it’s the only organization that has worked with UNDP to provide the financial resources to all female candidates for three, four years now—three elections now. And we moved from 11 to 12 to 27 to 45 women, through the support of the Norwegian government. So, yes, there’s a gender network and it is very effective, because it is the one that controls that country, yeah. And so if I’m standing and I’m a member of parliament, I will have my t-shirts printed with the support of the Norwegian government, but through the Gender Coordinating Network.
BIGIO: I know that there are more questions. I’m sorry we don’t have time to get to them all. But please join me in thanking Her Excellency for joining us today. (Applause.)